The risks from munitions in the underwater environment are driven by two different effects:  the explosive hazard associated with encounter and the environmental hazard associated with the release of the constituents contained in the round. In many underwater sites, particularly in deeper water not often accessed by divers, the likelihood of direct exposure is remote. In such cases, the main concern that drives management decisions is likely to be the environmental impact. 

In 2022, ESTCP funded projects that will improve the detection of unexploded ordnance (UXO) using technologies above and below the water surface as well as explore a safer munition removal process. The selected projects are described in greater detail below.

  • Dr. Gregory Schultz at White River Technologies and his team plan to implement and demonstrate a highly integrated and autonomous underwater vehicle-based three-dimensional (3D) electromagnetic induction (EMI) sensor technology to address unexploded ordnances (UXO) detection and classification in shallow water environments. The high clutter, object burial, and heavy marine growth often characteristic of shallow UXO environments present challenges for the detection and classification of munitions. Underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROV) are effective tools across a variety of applications including sea mine detection, infrastructure inspection, gas/oil exploration, and search and recovery because they are straightforward to operate, precisely controllable, and can host various sensor payloads. (Project Overview)
  • Mr. Claudio Fassardi at Jacobs Government Services Company and his team will assess the feasibility of and develop guidelines and procedures for using cofferdams constructed with water-filled geotextile tubes to dewater nearshore areas to perform munitions removal faster, safer, and more economically with conventional land-based methods. The effort will take place at the former Vieques Naval Training Range (VNTR) in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Using a land-based approach to munitions removal in nearshore areas represents a potential seminal innovation in terms of safety and cost. The nearshore is where recreational use is the highest, resulting in the greatest potential for human contact with munitions. It is also where underwater removal may not be feasible or implementing diver or marine equipment-based underwater removal technologies and methods would be difficult, labor-intensive, and costly. (Project Overview)
  • Mr. Gerald Thompson at ASTRALiTe and his team will evaluate a new technology to detect and identify military munitions at shallow (0 – 5 meter) underwater sites. They will do so by demonstrating the utility of an above-water, drone-based – Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system for three-dimensional (3D) mapping of a region’s bathymetry and underwater objects. The technology is a novel scanning topographic/bathymetric LiDAR capable of centimeter-level precision. When placed on a moving drone platform, the generated 3D LiDAR point cloud can map an area and identify objects on the seafloor. The technology objective is to generate high-resolution 3D point clouds of bathymetric scenes containing munitions and determine if the analysis to extract the performance metrics can meet the proposed success criteria. (Project Overview)

These projects will hopefully lead to safer protocols when dealing with underwater UXOs. The technology demonstrations will provide data to make decisions under a wide variety of site conditions. Such technologies will enable site managers to identify areas with concentrations of munitions, as well as areas free of munitions. Demonstrating the use of cofferdams to perform munitions removal in nearshore areas represents a potential seminal innovation in terms of safety and cost. We look forward to seeing these projects progress over the next few years.